‘It Takes Two to Tango’: Duo Art – Jukka Perko & Iiro Rantala

ItTakesTwo

HAVE YOU EVER perused the specialist CD store shelves (a rare pleasure these days, I know) and eschewed the solo or duo releases in favour of something seemingly bigger, bolder and multi-layered? If so, you might run the risk of missing out on the likes of Finnish treasure It Takes Two to Tango.

As part of ACT Music’s expanding Duo Art* series, saxophonist Jukko Perka and pianist Iiro Rantala recorded, across just two consecutive days, this no-hiding-place duo performance which demonstrates their affinity with the Finnish tradition of tango, as well as their richly empathetic, improvisatory qualities. Making expansive and particularly sonorous use of the renowned Alfred Brendel Steinway d-524780 (which the great virtuoso played during his concert appearances at Berlin’s Philharmonie), Rantala clearly revels in this thirteen-track musical conversation with ace saxophonist Perko. Based around themes of love, it’s not all about the tango – indeed, for a programme so wide-ranging (from Charles Aznavour to Jean Sibelius), it holds together beautifully, requiring close attention to enjoy its depth of detail.

Perko’s agitated arrangement of traditional melody My Sweetheart is Beautiful (Minun Kultani Kaunis On) is taken far from its traditional Finnish roots, resounding to his slippery alto and Rantala’s spirited rhythms; and Jacob Gade’s showy tango, Jealousy, oozes passion in a particularly lively outing. The clear communication between Perko and Rantala is tangible in their creative reading of Just Say I Love Her as they subtly deconstruct its achingly beautiful melody, followed by the sighing soprano sax solace of Charles Aznavour’s For Mama, gorgeously underpinned by Rantala’s strong-yet-subtle assurance.

The quizzical tango buoyancy of another Finnish folk tune arrangement, Therefore I Am Sad, is reminiscent of the Ballamy/Carstensen album The Little Radio, Perko’s wonderfully drowsy alto easing over signature chordal ripples from Rantala, whilst Romance rises with the anthemic lyricism and confidence of Tim Garland. And traditional Swedish tune A Blessing (Lyckönskan) resonates to muted bottom-end Steinway strings, this most ravishing of melodies bearing all the quiet nobility of Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding.

Jukka Perko’s own I Will tenderly rises and falls, its unfailingly amiable soprano tune giving way to Rantala’s lucid piano soloing; and Victor Young’s classic Stella by Starlight is given a resolute, smouldering tango twist, the duo’s dynamic sensitivity carefully balanced. Of Russian origin, Love Is So Beautiful is delicately pitched, with Perko’s alto taking on a Getzian mellowness and vibrato, as it also does in Finnish-titled Good Intentions – carefree yet with pangs of disquiet.

To close, Sibelius’s familiar hymn from symphonic poem Finlandia is explored in both piano solo and duet versions: redolent of a Keith Emerson transcription of Copland or Ginastera, Rantala’s take on it grooves heavily to deep-end piano oscillations; and, in contrast, the duet variation twinkles to emotive high soprano exploration and solid piano grandeur.

My admittedly cursory first listen was a brief mistake, for the exquisite clarity and musicality later revealed in this recording now call me back again and again.

Released on 11 May 2015, further information and audio clips can be found at ACT Music.

 

Jukka Perko alto & soprano saxophones
Iiro Rantala piano

jukkaperko.com
iirorantala.fi

*the Duo Art series also includes:
Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev
Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov

ACT Music – ACT 9629-2 (2015)

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‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’: Duo Art – Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev

Reverie

PART OF ACT’S ‘DUO ART’ SERIES, ‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ brings together two good friends from the contemporary jazz world – British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Russian (Milan-resident) double bassist Yuri Goloubev – for a programme of gloriously poetic brilliance.

Situated in Germany, towards the Austrian border, Elmau is a favoured stomping ground for Simcock – a recording retreat of creative calm, and the location for his solo piano album, ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’ (ACT, 2011). In this same environment, the pianist and bassist have woven together a sumptuous tapestry of co-written originals, drawn from their illustrious classical and jazz experiences – the appeal of this crossover confirmed by their recent, well-received live performance on BBC Radio 3’s established, chamber-focused Lunchtime Concert slot, as well as many international stage appearances.

Recording together previously (on ‘Blues Vignette’, as a trio with James Maddren – Basho, 2009), it’s clear that Simcock and Goloubev have developed a strong telepathic communication, their compositions leaping to the vibrant rhythms of jazz, as well as incorporating the grace and complex harmonic language of (amongst others I hear) Debussy, Ravel, Brahms and perhaps even Gershwin. Both musicians approach their craft with exacting precision, each able to ‘turn on a sixpence’ from emotional yearning – often characterised by Goloubev’s sustained, rhapsodic arco – to the tumbling, overflowing joy of Simcock’s dazzling piano.

Pastoral begins the journey with a pellucid, spacial simplicity which resembles Scandinavian folksong, pictorialised by droplet- and icicle-suggested effects before gaining gently-paced momentum – the first indication of the extraordinarily sensitive interaction that permeates the entire album. Also, it soon becomes apparent that these nine pieces are not for the background but, rather, demand close attention to fully appreciate the detail – indeed, importantly, at louder volumes the physical resonance is such that it’s easy to become involved at a much more intimate level. As an illustration, in Lost Romance, Goloubev’s lithe fingerwork annunciates every passage with such amazing depth, melodic accuracy, ringing harmonics and vibrato… it really is breathtaking, especially for an instrument so often consigned to plodding support! Shades of Pleasure explores major and minor keys with a luscious intertwining of piano and bass between its gently jarring main theme, set against a smoothly-ebbing piano ostinato, Goloubev again demonstrating his considerable dexterity.

In contrast to the duo’s quieter moments, Antics is a wondrously frolicking episode based around a familiar ‘playground jibe’ motif which the pair gladly tease each other with. Simcock seems to be establishing an upbeat pianistic style all of his own, featuring heavily accented chords and bounding baselines, best described as a ‘breakneck blues’ – such a compelling listen; and Yuri does well to chase him closely into every corner of these brisk four minutes. A Joy Forever tugs at the heartstrings, a beautifully emotive tune from the exquisite, cello-like fluidity of Goloubev, his switch from arco to fingered bass no less sublime (I recall seeing a young Gwilym Simcock playing many years ago with legendary drummer Bill Bruford – Earthworks, with Tim Garland – and the loftiness of this piece brings to mind Bruford’s own piano and bass gem, ‘Palewell Park’).

Non-Schumann Lied might be seen as reference to the artists’ classical beginnings, its songlike impressions maybe more elegantly Brahmsian in flavour; and Flow eddies and skips along to the lucid, colourful melodies that both instrumentalists share so keenly. The leggero ‘song without words’ feel of Vain Song finds Goloubev once again displaying a remarkable lightness of touch, Simcock hitting the heights of jazz soloing finesse (listen closely – this is a real treasure). And finally, an almost Elgarian Reverie (from the pen of 19th Century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini) – its subtle Victorian shades, reminiscent of Chanson de Nuit, find Yuri Goloubev at his most classically lyrical (though not without idiosyncratic improvisatory interlude) against the restrained romantic piano of Simcock.

Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev are, separately, to be found in many different guises in a currently buzzing contemporary jazz scene. But here, they pause to forge beauty and majesty in this coming together of two acoustic instruments – illuminated, of course, by their combined musical genius.

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ is released on the ACT label – more information and audio samples here.


Gwilym Simcock
piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass

ACT 9624-2 (2104)

‘Moscow’: Duo Art – Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov

Kuhn

SENSING THE ELECTRICITY between two jazz instrumentalists ‘in conversation’ can be both fascinating and revealing – and when musicians of the calibre of Joachim Kühn and Alexey Kruglov join forces, it’s a safe bet that a sensory display of fireworks is in the offing. Certainly, in the case of this new release, ‘Moscow’, it’s a pretty special coming together for the pianist and alto saxophonist as part of ACT’s expanding Duo Art series.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Joachim Kühn
piano
Alexey Kruglov alto saxophone

ACT – 9623-2 (2014)